Would someone please explain to me how Microsoft's newly launched Game Room service is going to make money?
For those who don't know, Game Room is a free downloadable application from Xbox Live Arcade (it's also available on PCs through Games for Windows Live) that allows people to create and style their own retro arcades, then start playing dozens of faithfully ported vintage games from the late 1970s to mid 1980s (think Combat, Super Cobra, and Gravitar).
Here's how it works: You can download packs of old arcade games (there are currently two available), then surf through and choose the ones you want to try. You can play for free for 10 minutes, play a single session for 40 Microsoft Points (60 cents Canadian), buy unlimited play time on one platform for 240 points ($3.58), or unlimited play time across both Xbox and Windows platforms for 400 points ($5.96). Players also enter the arcade with 20 tokens, free of charge.
These are cheap prices and all, but here's the thing: I don't think I need or want to spend much more than 10 minutes with games like Asteroids Deluxe, Tempest, and Centipede. I played the heck out of them when I was a kid, and I remember full well just how repetitive they can be. I've no desire to sit down and try to pull a King of Kong, spending hours and days shooting for a super high score. Seeing them in action again for a few minutes is fun, but that's all I need. I don't feel the urge to top up the hundreds of quarters I blew on them as a kid.
I admit that there are some classic game lovers who can't get enough of these older titles, but I've met many of them (see picture above) and they tend to be purists. They'll lament the absence of the big, round, concave buttons and red-balled sticks found on old arcade machines and look down their noses at the Xbox 360's thoroughly modern interface. They'll also snicker at the fact that Game Room gives players the option of warping around its games, rewinding time when they make a mistake or moving to a different level altogether. I can see classic game lovers spending hundreds of dollars on an old arcade cabinet before plunking down more than a few bucks in Game Room.
That leaves the kids. Are teens who grew up on polygonal graphics, modern gamepads, and the ability to save their progress really going to go for these relics? Certainly, some will get a kick out of seeing what passed for interactive entertainment when their parents were young. A small minority will probably even become obsessed with some of the better titles. But enough for Microsoft and its partners to see any real money?
I will admit, though, that the folks at Krome Studios have done their best to try to get people interested in coming back and spending at least a little money. They've added plenty of modern community features, like the ability for friends to visit each other's arcades and issue challenges to one another. Plus, a surprisingly deep incentive system is in place that has players leveling up and earning medals while they play, all of which leads to those always desirable Xbox Live Achievement points (there are a thousand up for grabs here, and at least 50 of them come just for mucking around in the arcade editor mode). Never underestimate the power of a good reward system.
So, who knows? Perhaps Game Room will be long lived and end up making Microsoft and Krome scads of cash.
Of course, as a player, none of this is really my concern. I can just be thankful that I've been given the chance to spend a few minutes avoiding oil slicks and semis in Road Fighter. It's enough to satisfy whatever urges I may have experienced over the last quarter century to revisit Konami's classic racer, and makes for a nice break between Battlefield: Bad Company 2 play sessions.
Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha